Commentary: All Georgia needs is a cultural revolution
Zaal Andronikashvili, a publicist and a professor at the University of Ilia, sums up the two-day protest rally against anti-drug raids.
The protest rally, which started on 12 May near the parliament building after police performed drug raids on several nightclubs in Tbilisi, has ended. Thousands of young people had organized a rally against the use of excessive force by the police, intimidating the people and closing down night clubs. The gathering was organized by the White Noise movement, which has been pushing for the liberalization of Georgia’s drug policy for several years. The main demand by the protesters was the resignation of the prime minister and the minister of internal affairs.
According to Zaal Andronikashvili, the attacks on free space will continue in Georgia, and therefore it is necessary to draw conclusions on the event and learn necessary lessons. Here are his five main conclusions:
The White Noise movement has no long-term strategic goals (except for the decriminalization/legalization of drugs). Because of this, the political demands made at the event (namely the resignation of the prime minister and the minister of internal affairs) were unrealistic. Although the end result (the apology made by the head of the ministry of internal affairs and his promise to start work on liberalization of drug policy) might at first seem inadequate, it is in fact significant. The government has acknowledged a mistake, apologized and is ready to discuss.
Meanwhile, based on my own personal experience of meetings with the Minister of Internal Affairs over the past years, I can say that postponing negotiations usually do not bring any result. Therefore, in my opinion, the main result of the protest is the apology given by the minister. I suppose that none of the police officers who took part in the raid will be punished. I’m also skeptical about the promises of liberalizing the drug policy.
The authorities made use of a rather interesting tactic yesterday. Those currently in power are likely to use it in the future as well: the law enforcement will not disperse rallies, but instead there will be another ‘contra-action’ taking place in the neighborhood, with the purpose of creating the illusion of ‘civil confrontation’ to intimidate the participants of a rally and force them to negotiate. This is exactly what happened at the parliament building. This should be remembered in future, in order to know how to act in such cases.
Let’s move on to the strategic side of the matter. What did the government achieve? The government got out of a difficult situation with minimal losses, they saved face and the minister of the interior gained points as a good negotiator. Furthermore, some of the citizens believe that the government became a ‘facilitator’ between the ‘two opposing parties’ not to allow bloodshed. Meanwhile, the government has failed to achieve the strategic goal of storming club Basiani – the club will not be closed and club life will continue, because linking the events of the ‘Black Hundreds’ would cost too much for the authorities.
What did we participants and supporters achieve with the rally? We managed to defend one important free space. But we did not manage to expand this space. Now we should start working to ensure that the free space spills out of Basiani. There is a cultural revolution happening in Georgia, and this is the only revolution that we need. It is a peaceful revolution. Its driving force is precisely its apolitical nature, although one should not forget the political part.
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What will happen tomorrow? Attacks on the mainstays of freedom will for sure be undertaken in the future, perhaps in a more sophisticated form, for which one must be prepared. The cultural revolution will not get far with the White Noise movement alone. Anyone who wants to uproot the last remnants of the post-Soviet system must unite around a certain minimum program. Specific requirements should be formulated and work on their implementation has to be started.